Saturday, January 21, 2017
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "Bitter Herbs" (September 18, 1976)
In “Bitter Herbs,” Billy Batson (Michael Gray) and Mentor (Les Tremayne) get lost, and a tire on their RV blows out. Captain Marvel repairs it.
Later, the Elders summon Billy and tell him that no one should “judge someone because he worships differently.”
After the repair, the duo continue on their journey to visit Jack Michaels, an old friend, who is also Jewish. After their arrival, Mento and Billy meet Jack's teenage son, Yale (David Gruner), and learn that a local racist, Orin Clyde (Landen Chiles) is discriminating against the boy, refusing to let him a club called the Overlanders. He sabotages Yale's bike, and puts salt water in his canteen in an attempt to dissuade him from sticking with the club.
Worse, as Billy finds out, Orin is smuggling stolen art across the Mexican border. Again, it’s a job for Captain Marvel.
This episode of Filmation’s Saturday morning series, Shazam (1974-1976), takes on anti-Semitism.
In particular, a man named Orin says of Jews that “They’re different from us,” and that he doesn’t want “any Jews” in his club. It's pretty ugly, but also true. We all know that there are people who not only belive this kind of poison, but express their ignorant views for others to hear.
This kind of overt prejudice goes up against the words of the Elders, and the episode's conclusion is that “people must learn to understand” that not everyone is the same, or shares the same sets of beliefs.
All of this material is handled in a manner appropriate for Saturday morning entertainment of the 1970s, but like last week’s show, the episode feels the need to include a kind of criminal subplot too.
So Orin, played by Linden Chiles, is not only a bigot, but a criminal who is smuggling art. The action scene this week involves Mr. Clyde – the bigot – contending with a mountain lion, and Captain Marvel saving him.
The jamming together of the two plots makes for a fast-paced episode, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if the point of the show is somewhat lost.
Bigots are bad people, but not all bigots are criminals. The truly insidious thing about prejudice is that sometimes it is expressed where and when you don’t expect it. By a family member at an event. At a friend’s house. Or by our leaders in Congress, or in the White House.
These people are ignorant and wrong to carry such beliefs, but they may not also be a criminal, an actual law breaker. I fear that young people watching this episode would conflate the two ideas and not understand the distinction. They might believe that only criminals are bigots, when in truth prejudice runs deep and wide across a swath of people, some of whom have never broken a single law.
Next week: “Ripcord.”
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